Reading is an inherently independent activity so if there’s anything unusual about my reading The Lord of the Rings every year, it’s limited to the fact that I read The Lord of the Rings every year and not that I do so alone. Most years, after I finish that reading, I watch Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films but this too I do alone. Over the years I’ve refrained from asking my wife to join me in my viewings (she wouldn’t want to, anyway) but I’ve also avoided a number of other opportunities to watch the films with family and friends. That avoidance is not accidental.
I’ve written before about how, for people such as myself, our artistic loves become bound up in the fabric of our identities and The Lord of the Rings is very much a part of my fabric. And, despite the hundreds of thousands of words that I’ve spilled onto the internet over the years, I remain a fairly private person when it comes to that fabric. Even as subreddits and forums have brought people together to share and enrich their passions, I’ve resisted the call of those digital communities.
It’s tempting to think that my reluctance towards online communities arises from my age and the conditions of my life: At 33, I’m an elder millennial who didn’t have regular internet access until I got to college. I may be relatively computer literate now, but many of my formative years were spent, essentially, in an unconnected, internet-free world. Isolation certainly was a part of who I was and, as much as it chafed at me as an adolescent, I seem to enjoy it being a part of who I am now. But that perspective isn’t universal for my contemporaries; John and Hank Green are notable content creators who, despite being several years older than me, thrive in a vast and extremely active online community.
The closest I can come to articulating my aversion to the communities that have formed around some of the art that I love is to compare it to the worn out adage that “the book was better.” These things that have become a part of who I am—The Lord of the Rings, Third Eye Blind, the collected works of Ursula Le Guin, etc.—are like beloved books as long as I keep them to myself: They are brought to their fullest realization by the isolation of my imagination. But sharing them, and learning not only what others think of them but also that others love them no less than I do, is akin to turning those books into movies; it makes them more tangible, yes, but at a loss of that intangible imagination that is so important for artistic love. It turns something that was mine into something that merely is.
This is by no means a universal truth and it may even be counterproductive for me, but it’s true all the same. That much I feel comfortable sharing.